I Kept My Little Girl Out of Kindergarten — and It Made My Family Stronger
By Rachel Jardine
I ’m a stay-at-home mom of three children, ages 5, 3, and almost 1. I love staying at home with my children, but I didn’t always love it. When my oldest child Rosalia was three, I could not wait for kindergarten. Not for Rosie’s sake, for mine!
A seven-hour break from my most challenging child every blessed day sounded great. Already she was going to preschool several days a week.
One day I realized that I dreaded the time when my daughter would come home from preschool. I didn’t like feeling this way, so I immersed myself in motherhood. I took my kids out of preschool, stopped trying to look for a part-time job, and I read a lot of books about parenting.
I stopped seeing my kids as obstacles getting in the way of what I wanted, or projects that needed to be completed. When I stopped feeling like I must control or create my children, I feared them less and enjoyed them more.
Slowly I became more confident and content as a stay-at-home mother. I worked hard to create an environment of love and discipline with lots of play and no fear of judgment. I think this is how young children learn best. It felt good to be working hard at something meaningful.
Once I didn’t need kindergarten, I wondered if Rosalia needed it. School seemed like a lot of work, and what was the reward? As I improved the quality of our time at home, I saw what a powerful influence home life has on a child’s sense of well-being.
I watched my daughter grow. I learned to appreciate her natural disposition. She is sensitive, imaginative, active, intense, perceptive. How would she do in kindergarten? As Rosalia’s fifth birthday drew near, I argued with myself about what course to take.
“She’s high-strung and head-strong,” I told myself, “she’ll hate the schedule.”
“That’s exactly why she should go! She isn’t some precious flower who can’t handle real life,” I responded to myself.
“But look how much she loves playing outside! And she’s not a morning person.
She’ll be exhausted . . .”
“I wish there was a half-day program . . .”
One thing became immediately clear as I planned for public school: Rosie did not want to go. She is a homebody, though one who loves to have small adventures and lots of friends over. When we brought up the subject of kindergarten, she immediately responded that she didn’t want to go and that she hated school.
I was prepared to persist despite her negativity, and I dragged all my children to a kindergarten open house. There I saw the cheerful (though windowless) classrooms crammed full of fascinating learning toys. I met the pleasant-yet-authoritative teachers.
Then I saw the schedule. Only one 20-minute recess each day! P.E. was indoors! Homework packets! I heard the teachers emphasize that reading was a very high priority at school, and I wondered at what cost.
Doubts crept in. I thought about how being outdoors enlivened and calmed my high-strung daughter. I questioned whether it was advantageous to be so focused on gaining academic skills. The headlines from articles lauding the developmental benefits of delayed schooling and the value of unstructured outdoor play twisted among my thoughts.
Back at home I considered the family experience of school. I imagined Rosie’s early mornings and the late afternoons coming home tired from having to be outside her family circle for so long. I could practically hear the whining and the bickering that would ensue. The nagging to come finish worksheets, the fight over what clothes are school appropriate. No more spontaneous family trips. Ugh.
In the end, we felt kindergarten would detract from the great experiences she was having at home. I put the enrollment packet in the recycling bin.
Friends ask me if I homeschool Rosalia. Nope. I follow no curriculum and plan no special educational activities. However, I try to make our day-to-day home life enriching.
We occasionally do simple math when we bake. During our walks we talk about any interesting detail we notice. The kids have listened to me read aloud many novels. We have a relaxed schedule of chores, and often the kids like to help.
I did make a special effort to teach Rosalia how to read (though with much resistance and struggle — I have a profound appreciation for teachers who can do that), and now she reads and writes willingly.
Rosalia does not have the academic skills that her kindergarten friends do. She doesn’t read fluently or write neatly. She can’t count by fives. But you know what? Five-year-olds don’t have to worry about how much they know.
I’m confident that some dedicated catch-up time over the summer will help her feel comfortable in first grade. And she will have had one more year at home to grow into herself.
I am looking forward to school for Rosalia. She will learn how to succeed with her peers and with other authority figures. She will learn when her competitive nature helps and when it hurts. She will have to make moral choices away from my gaze, and she’ll have to live with the consequences of those choices without me. And, of course, she will learn to read, write, figure, and analyze.
But for now, I am so happy to have her home with me.
Originally published at www.the74million.org.